Nearly two weeks after the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march in Selma, Ala., the nation is still unsure of its footing on racial divisions.
Notably, the University of Oklahoma’s (OU) Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chapter was recently disbanded following the circulation of a video showing some fraternity members chanting antiquated racist slurs.
OU President David Boren called the video “disgraceful” and immediately closed the fraternity chapter and house. The video also led to widespread campus protests, where African-American students compose less than five percent of the student body in fall 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Other SAE members and alumni were quick to distance themselves from the actions of Oklahoma’s chapter.
“We want the Miami community to know that our chapter does not allow, accept, or tolerate hate or discrimination of any type and will actively stand against it,” wrote Sean Mulligan, president of the Florida Alpha Chapter of SAE at the University of Miami, in a statement to The Miami Hurricane.
While the video is evidence that pockets of hate and ignorance persist behind seemingly closed doors, the firm backlash to the scandal shows hopeful progress in societal sentiment.
By and large, popular outward opinion today is averse to inequality, and the fraternity members fall on the wrong side of history. OU is neither acting independently nor vindictively in disbanding the chapter; rather, it is manifesting the will of a society that is no longer indifferent to hate speech.
According to a YouGov poll released last week, 59 percent of voters agreed with the university’s decision to close the house and expel two fraternity members. Hateful opinions have also become increasingly confined to private and anonymous platforms.
Though some have expressed concerns that this harsh punishment is infringing students’ free speech, there’s a thin but distinct line between censorship and culpability.
The university is imposing necessary consequences on students who have fully exercised their right to free speech. While students can voice their sentiments, they should prepare to take responsibility for their actions that can harm others.
In looking at Boren’s statement, we are reminded of UM’s quick administrative response to inciteful comments following the peaceful, student-led Black Lives Matter protest.
After students used racial slurs to criticize the protest on anonymous social media platforms like Yik Yak, President Donna E. Shalala sent out a strongly worded apology to the protest organizers. She followed this with a university-wide email emphasizing the expectation of “respectful dialogue” on campus.
The school’s response did not stop there. An email sent out last week by Graduate School Dean Brian Blake announced the members of a newly-created task force addressing the campus climate for black students. UM administration’s decision to turn these negative events into an opportunity for learning and dialogue shows promise for effective, lasting change.
While satiating public demand, simply shutting down OU’s SAE chapter may not be enough. More could be done to change the root of the problem by educating students and making sure student groups stay true to their stated missions.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.